Every one in the Ashram was talking in hushed tones about it. Swami Poornananda Maharaj, who always takes his food along with all the inmates at theAshram dining hall was not seen at breakfast as well as at lunch time.
A saint of his nature, who always advises moderation in food intake and never advises to go to extremes like fasting, undergoing fasting himself with his frail body at his advanced age was a matter of extreme concern for every one.
Shuddananda, the youngest Sanyasi disciple of Swami Poornananda, was shocked beyond measure. His heart was pounding with a sense of guilt and fear as he suspected that only on account of him that the Swamiji Maharaj was undertaking fast. He could not garner enough courage to go and meet Swamiji. If only he said “yes, it is because of you” where will he hide his face?
When he met Swamiji last night after his return from Delhi to narrate his activities and experiences at Delhi, Swamiji’s facial expressions threw enough hints that he was extremely disturbed and unhappy.
Shuddananda’s ego was not willing to accept that he was faulty. ‘Whatever I have done is done with the full faith that I am doing my duty to the best of my ability to highlight my Guru Poornanada Maharaj’s divinity and his mission to the outside world. What if there were some shortfalls in the methodology?’
Shuddananda could not see his assistant brahmachari Ajay Chaitanya since morning. It was Ajay who accompanied him to Delhi. It was with him Swamiji was closeted with last night after Shuddananda’s meeting with Swamiji had been over. Did the young idiot spill some more beans about the happenings at Delhi?
The events of the last couple of days were constantly getting rewound in Shuddananda’s mind.
Four days back, Seth Gokuldas Singhania arrived at the ashram in his car, with a huge load of fruit baskets.
The ashram remained barely visible to the outside world, tucked in a by-lane diverting from Rishikesh-Devprayag Road, hardly a kilometer from Lakshman Jhoola. That Swami Poornananda was a self-realized soul- a jivan mukta and that his abode was this secluded Ashram were known only to a few hundred ardent devotees of him. Several revered sadhus living at Rishikesh of course knew Swami Poornananda very well and their veneration towards Swamiji was a cut above the rest. Many sadhus visited him often to seek his blessings and spiritual guidance. However, Swamiji preferred to remain conspicuous. He would say, “I am like a fragrant flower brimming with nectar that blooms deep inside a forest. Hungry bees will find me any way.”
Everything in the Ashram was simple and bare to the minimum. There were a couple of brick and mortar cottages with asbestos roofing to house about 30 disciples and sadhakas (spiritual practicioners). There was a home for the destitute and physically handicapped, managed by Swamiji’s eldest disciple Raghavananda (who was actually the legal owner of the Ashram). It housed about thirty children and senior citizens.
Seth Gokuldas was relatively a new devotee of Swamiji. Somehow he was bowled over by Swamiji’s divinity right at his first meeting two years ago. He had unabated enthusiasm in bringing more and more devotees to Swamiji.
After making prostrations, Seth Gokuldas, was adamant and argumentative this time.
“Maharaj, I know that day after tomorrow is your birthday. I know you have come down to earth to redeem us. But how long will you hide yourself in this jungle? I have come to take you to Delhi. I am planning for a grand celebration there…You can’t refuse this time…”
Swamiji displayed impatience after listening to him serenely for a while. “I have no birthday. Only on the day one’s ego dies and illumination dawns, it is the true birth day. Even at that juncture, what is there to celebrate? The bliss is beyond celebration…”
Seth would not budge. Swamiji at last said “I have never moved from this place for the last 40 years. If celebrating my birthday is going to help some people to spend a day in Japa, meditation, contemplation or in singing the divine name, then do it. Make it simple. I will permit you take a disciple of mine along with you for the occasion to Delhi.”
Shuddhananda volunteered with enthusiasm. He wanted his assistant brahmachari Ajay to accompany him. Swamiji nodded his head after some contemplation. Seth Gokuldas was happy. He took both of them in his car to Delhi the same day.
At the back seat of the car, Shuddananda kept on talking with unabated enthusiasm with Ajay, about the need for propagating Swamiji’s divine mission to the outside world.
“Ajay! You perhaps won’t know. By a mere touch, our Guru maharaj can kindle divine illumination in a person. I have personal experience to vouch on it. Last year, on Guru Purnima day, his touch on my forehead kept me in inexplicable divine ecstasy for 3 days! If only more and more people come to know of him, how beneficial to the world would it be! I just can’t understand why he wants to remain hidden in the jungle…”
Shuddananda, opened his ochre cloth shoulder bag and pulled out a notebook. “Look here. I have poured out my love and reverence on our Swamiji in all these verses which I composed. Words just gush out in torrents from my heart with excellent rhyme and rythm. I have set tunes to these songs too”. As Ajay watched in silence, Shuddananda sang in a hoarse voice a song from his note book, shaking his head and clapping with hand with unbridled gusto. “I am going to conduct a bhajan in Delhi with these songs; These songs are capable of inspiring even a lay listener…”
Ajay could not help but intervene now. “But, Maharaj, our Swamiji had advised you not to sing them at the Ashram Bhajan Hall, when you so did last time…”.
Shuddananda threw an irritated look at Ajay. “That is the problem with our Swamiji. He somehow doesn’t encourage these talents. I have read a lot about Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh. He used to look for specific talents in each of his disciples and encourage them to develop to the fullest extent. No wonder his name is known all around the globe. Any way, our Swamiji had only restrained me from singing at Ashram. Did he say I should not sing anywhere else?”
Ajay was becoming restless at the utterances of Shuddananda. He clearly remembered what Swamiji said to Shuddananda six months ago. Ajay was very much in the room when the conversation took place. “Look Shuddananda, singing of Bhajans should be left to those who have a sweet voice and a good grasp ofshruthi and swaras. Writing poetry and seeking appreciation for your writing skills will add fuel to your egotism and will prove to be a hindrance to your goal of self-realization”. As Shuddananda left the room with a sense of hurt, Swamiji commented in general: “Funny is the way of Maya’s delusion! While good singers are troubled by stage fear, it is always those with a hoarse voice devoid of shruthiwho get lured more by the microphone and sing aloud with aplomb!”
Shuddananda and Ajay returned to the Ashram in the evening of the next day after the birthday celebrations at Delhi.
As they were about to descend from the car, Shuddananda pulled Ajay and said, “One must always look at the positive sides of anything; One should not comment about the negative aspects. This is what great spiritual masters teach”. Ajay didn’t want to reply. ‘If Swamiji wants to know from me the negative sides too, how can I hide them?’ though he.
Swamiji was free to meet them immediately after the evening prayers. Shuddananda prostrated before Swamiji, rose up and declared with his chest up “The Birth day celebration, with your blessings, was a grand success, Swamiji!”
Swamiji with a twinkle in his eyes said, “What do you mean by success? You went to play some match and won it to receive a trophy? What is your definition of success? Do you know where from this pride springs in you, you sanyasi? Any way, did they take care of you well?”
“Yes Maharaj! wonderfully well! We stayed in Sethji’s Bungalow. He provided AC room for us; pampered us with excellent food; took my advice on every aspect of the celebration formalities. Everything was grand; Money was spent like water! The birth day celebration was arranged in a vacant plot adjacent to Sethji’s bungalow. The entire street was cordoned off for traffic and a huge shamiana was erected; It was wonderfully decorated with lamps. Loud speakers were set up over the entire stretch of the street…”
Shuddananda proceeded with unbridled enthusiasm giving all finer details of the celebration. “The highlight was actually the procession we arranged. A huge 10 feet by 6 feet photo of yours was placed in a van decorated as a chariot, flood-lit and taken along several roads and streets around the venue. I was given the privilege of sitting in front of your photo and distributing prasad. This procession alone would have made your holy presence known to tens and thousands of people! And in the venue of the function, bhajans went on till 1 PM at night! The enthusiasm with which your devotees participated must be seen to be believed, Maharaj!…”
Swami Poornanada’s face was becoming dark and grave as he sat listening to Shuddananda. After moments of deafening silence, Swamiji said.
“So, you had the pleasure of dragging your Guru, who had never moved from Rishikesh, across lanes and by lanes of Delhi, creating traffic jams, putting thousands of commuters into difficulty and also receiving their overt and silent curses on your beloved Swamiji! Wonderful!….” Swamiji paused. He turned his gaze to Ajay and enquired.
“It must be Shuddanandji who sang the “awe-inspiring” bhajans over blaring loudspeakers beyond midnight, if my intuitions are not incorrect?” Ajay was jolted by the display of Swamiji’s vision. Shuddananda stood dumb folded. After waving Shuddanada out, Swamiji retained Ajay to hear more of the unpleasant side of the story. Ajay spoke with hesitation.
“Swamiji! There were ugly scenes the next morning outside the bungalow where we were staying. A huge mob of infuriated residents of the locality gathered and started shouting at us. Because of the shamiana, no traffic could pass through the street; Alternative routes were too narrow and there were traffic jams at every junction. Blaring loudspeakers robbed a night’s sleep on the weary residents. There were a large chunk of upper class people of another religion in the locality. They were boiling, issuing threats of serious retaliation that may mar communal harmony. There was a professional musician residing right opposite to the bungalow and he was nastily critical of our swami’s full-throated singing at the dead of the night.”
“What did you do to quell the mobs’ fury?”
“Shuddanandji came out and patiently listened to their shouting. Finally he said – ‘My master had told me a story about Buddha. A lady shouted at Buddha with words full of venom; Buddha after listening patiently said, “Mother! If you offer gifts to me that I don’t want to receive from you, whom will it belong to?” The lady said “To me”. Buddha said, “ it is so with your verbal out-pouring too.” Telling this story, our Shuddanandji smiled at them!”
“What happened then?”
“Somebody started throwing stones, and we had to rush and take shelter inside the bungalow!”
Swamiji bid good night to Ajay and sat in deep contemplation.
Shuddananda managed to gather enough courage to seek Swamiji’s meeting the next day evening.
He fell down to swamiji’s feet and grabbed them. “Swamiji, I am tormented. Is it because of me that you are fasting? Was my motive to aggrandize you wrong? Is not a disciple duty-bound to adulate his Guru?”
“Get up my son. You are not the only reason for me to undertake this penance. I am doing it as a self- punishment too!” Swamiji proceeded with an even voice.
“One day of fasting to punish me for yielding to the sentimental plea of an outright worldly Bhakta by giving my consent for celebrations, without foreseeing the consequences fully. One more day of fasting as a way of seeking pardon from the public who were put to untold hardship on account of my birthday. And yet another day of fasting as a self-punishment for rearing a disciple who thinks of himself enlightened to the level of Buddha! Thus I will finish my fasting in three days. Don’t worry!”
Shuddananda limped back to his cottage with eyes glued to earth.